Archive for March, 2007

Alien Hominid HD is a blast

March 13th, 2007

Alien Hominid HDAlien Hominid HD has recently been released on XBox Live Arcade. I have to say it’s great fun. The graphics remind me of Invader Zim, as does the sense of humour in the game. It’s a 2D side-scrolling shooter where you play the role of an alien whose ship has been shot down and crash-landed on Earth, and is being pursued by FBI agents. It’s fast paced frenetic fun, with 2 player co-op adding even more fun. There’s weapon power ups and shields to be collected as you progress, along with vehicles you can jump in to mow down the men in black. Each level contains typical old-skool-type bosses whose weakness you have to work out while avoiding its pattern of attacks. There’s also minigames to unlock which can be played by up to 4 players over XBox Live. It’s just great fun 😀 I liked it so much I unlocked the full version (800 points).

More details on the UNSC Sparrowhawk

March 13th, 2007

Thanks to Louis Wu at HBO for pointing out that Ensemble Studios have posted more details on the UNSC Sparrowhawk. Here’s the lowdown:

Known more readily as just “Hawk” the Sparrowhawk is a formidable air to ground armor busting support aerodyne. The Hawk is still being assessed by command before full production starts while engineers are still working on an experimental propulsion system that has led to failures in the field making the future of this vehicle uncertain. The Hawk first saw actual combat against the Covenant on the surface of Harvest in the final months of that campaign.

For those of you (like me) that don’t know what an “aerodyne” is, Wikipedia defines it as:

An aerodyne is a heavier-than-air aircraft which derives lift from motion, as opposed to an aerostat which uses buoyancy (such as a balloon) to fly.

So, it’s a fancy word for plane, then :)

There’s also a new desktop version of the image available here in various resolutions. From this it’s clearer that what I thought were rocket pods are more like missiles or bombs.

Iain Bank’s latest novel ‘The Steep Approach to Garbadale’ is out

March 12th, 2007

Iain Bank’s latest non-sci-fi novel ‘The Steep Approach to Garbadale’ is out now. Here’s the publishing blurb from his website:

THE STEEP APPROACH TO GARBADALE

The Wopuld family built its fortune on a board game called Empire! – now a hugely successful computer game. So successful, the American Spraint Corp wants to buy the firm out. Young renegade Alban, who has been living wild and evading the family tentacles for years, is run to ground and persuaded to attend the forthcoming gathering – part birthday celebration, part Extraordinary General Meeting – convened by Win, the Wopuld matriarch and most powerful member of the board.

Alban, at first reluctant to involve himself in the buyout, increasingly thinks Spraint Corp and its executives, Fromlax and Feaguing, should be treated with suspicion. But he also has other things on his mind. Being drawn back into the bosom of the clan brings inevitable and disconcerting confrontation with his past. What drove his mother to take her own life? And is he yet over Sophie, his beautiful enchanting cousin and teenage love? Grandmother Win’s revelations will radically alter Alban’s perspective for ever.

Full of his trademark warmth, humanity and inventiveness, this wonderfully vivid story of family turmoil, compromised loyalties and hidden origins is Iain Banks’s most compelling novel since The Crow Road.

He’s also doing a tour of the UK during March to promote the book.

Next William Gibson book: ‘Spook Country’

March 12th, 2007

OK, I’m more than a little late off the mark with this, but according to the man himself, his next novel ‘Spook Country’ is complete. However, according to Amazon, it’s not due for release till the 7th of August. I can’t wait!

Crackdown Screenshots

March 12th, 2007

I’ve just added some screenshots from Crackdown to the site here. These came from a fansite pack that you can download from the official Crackdown site. It’s pretty good, with the screenshots, concept art, art assets for theming your Crackdown fansite, and lots more. Check it out!

UNSC Sparrowhawk

March 12th, 2007

Over at the official Halo Wars website there’s a recent forum post that gave an update about some Microsoft bigwigs that came to see a playable version of Halo Wars. Since the post went up there’s been an image being ‘decrypted’ at the end of the post. The image is finally fully visible, and it has revealed one of the new vehicles that will appear in the game – the UNSC Sparrowhawk.

UNSC Sparrowhawk

This looks like a relative of the Pelican but designed more for offensive duties – a bit like a futuristic Apache helicopter. In the image you can see that the vehicle has a chin-mounted gun, two double-barrelled cannons on wing mounts, and three rocket pods under each wing too. It’s not clear how much elevation these vehicles can get – perhaps they’ll hover more than fly.

I’m beginning to really look forward to Halo Wars. I like RTS games, and had a great time with Age of Empires, which Ensemble also made. There’s no release date mentioned yet for it, but it sounds like they’re making good progress.

Crackdown impressions

March 12th, 2007

Crackdown LogoLast Thursday night I got time to take a look at the Crackdown demo available for download from XBox Live. Crackdown has received a lot of attention in the gaming press and the Halo community due to the inclusion of invitations to the Halo 3 Beta in retail copies of the game. There was an initial impression that the Halo 3 Beta invitations must be a marketing ploy to help sell a sub-standard game. However, it appears that Crackdown can stand on its own two feet.

Major Nelson has a whole podcast dedicated to it, and has been going on about the game for a while now. That said, he is a Microsoft employee, and despite his claims about doing his shows and his site in his own time with his own cash, etc., he would have a certain bias, and would no doubt be happy to help promote XBox games. It is unlikely that he would promote a crap game though :)

JVB from Podtacular has put together a review of Crackdown. He was pretty impressed with it, and he was one of several XBox community members invited to Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington to a special Crackdown community event. You can hear all about their experiences in Podtacular Episode 99.

So, I decided to take a look for myself. In the game, you play the role of a genetically enhanced super-cop in a city overrun with crime. Your job is to clean up the city any way you see fit. It’s a sandbox-type game, similar in some aspects to the Grand Theft Auto series of games. You can go wherever you like, and do whatever you want. There are missions and objectives, but you can approach them in whatever order you like, and there are many ways to complete them.

The game also has some RPG elements, in that you can develop and improve your character’s abilities. These include skills such as driving, firearms, and explosives, and atributes such as agility and strength. The more you use the skills, the better you get at them. Driving, shooting, throwing grenades, etc., all develop your skills – “skills for kills” as one of the developers of the game put it. Strength is improved through melee atacks and lifting/throwing items. You can build up your strength to the point where you can throw trucks around the place!

Crackdown - blowing things up!

The agility attribute is possibly the most interesting. You improve it through finding Agility Orbs – glowing green spheres dotted around the rooftops of the city. Finding one of these improves your agility – allowing you to jump higher and further. This introduces an element of platform gaming to the game. Soon you start keeping an eye out for the telltale green glows (easier to see at night), and before long you’re making Matrix-style jumps across the skyline – complete with concrete-crushing landings. It is surprising how quickly you start looking at the city from the point of view of “can I jump up there/that far?” or “how can I get to that orb?”, and of course each time you get another orb, those limits are pushed even further. There’s 500 to find throughout the city, and there’s other mystery orbs to find too.

Overall, my impressions were positive about Crackdown. It successfully coveys the impression that you’re a genetically-enhanced super-cop that can do whatever he likes in his attempts to clean up the city. The city itself is well populated, with realistic inhabitants and environments that feel very three-dimensional. Apparently the co-op system is fun, with each participant completely independent and can go wherever they want – they can help their partner too if they want :) The achivements are supposed to be good too, with fun achievements in there too. For example you get an achievement for climbing up the top of the tallest building (and successfully jumping off it too!), juggling a body with the rocket launcher, and so on.

I don’t tend to buy many games, mainly because I don’t get enough time to play the games I already have :) However, I’d definitely pick this up if it was on sale, or perhaps pre-owned. For regular game buyers, I’d definitely recommend it.

Henry out for the rest of the season?

March 9th, 2007

Thierry Henry injured at PSV gameTo add injury to insult, it looks like Thierry Henry may be out for the rest of the season following the PSV match this week. During the match he tore his stomach and groin muscles, and is due to have a scan to check the extent of the injury. Wenger gambled when he brought him on, and not only did Henry fail to impact on the match, he has added these new injuries to his dodgy back and hamstring. With van Persie still out with his broken foot and Walcott carrying a shoulder injury, it looks like Arsenal will have to rely on Adebayor, Baptista, and Aliadiere to carry them over the finish line this season.

UPDATE: It has been confirmed on Arsenal.com that Henry will be out for at least three months, which means we won’t see him till next season.

No silverware for Arsenal this season

March 8th, 2007

So, my and many other Gooners’ fears were justified, and Arsenal have been knocked out of the Champions Leage by PSV. There’s no real chance of overtaking Liverpool, Chelsea and Man United, so there’ll be no silverware to add to the new trophy cabinet in the Emirates Stadium this year.

Yet again, last night’s match had Arsenal dominating much of the play and having several attempts on goal, and yet failing to score. Their only “goal” was an own-goal by PSV defender Alex, who made up for his mistake by scoring in the 84th minute to leave Arsenal needing to score twice to avoid going out of the competition. This they failed to do, and the empty seats visible in the last few minutes of the game indicated that many fans didn’t believe they were capable of it either.

Arsenal need at least one other consistent goal scorer. In previous seasons they had midfielders such as Pires who got lots of goals each season, plus other strikers who could perform such as Dennis Bergkamp. This season, Robin van Persie is Arsenal’s top striker, closely followed by Thierry Henry and then Gilberto. Henry just isn’t doing it this season like he has in previous years. No doubt injury has played its part in limiting his effectiveness, but I also think that his elevation to Captain has impeded his ability to be selfish and decisive in front of goal. Since he’s not a shouting kind of captain, I think he’s gone for becoming more of a playmaker and assist player, trying to help others score. Frankly, that’s not and shouldn’t be his forte. I want the selfish Henry who runs at and terrifies defenses before curling the ball past the keeper. I want the Henry who thinks of nothing but getting the ball in the back of the net. I want the Henry that can turn on the afterburners after passing to himself in space that leaves defenders coughing in his dust.

However, I fear that Henry is gone, never to return. His pace is gone, his authority is gone, his arrogance is gone. What is left is not enough to carry a whole team for a whole season. Now, maybe Arsene can get that Henry back. Maybe it would mean resting him from now to the start of the next season – I don’t know. But maybe he’ll never be the player he was, and it’s time to cash in on him. I think I wouldn’t be alone in being happy enough to accept a big wodge of cash this summer from Barcelona or whoever in return for a petulant Frenchman past his prime.

But what then? Wenger is not one known to buy ready-made superstars. He seems to delight in developing younger players – and he has done a great job with players such as Fabregas and Clichy, with Denilson looking to join their number before long. But how long can we afford to drop out of competitions and be eternal runners-up while waiting for the youngsters to blossom? There’s no doubt that Wenger’s youngsters did really well in the Carling Cup this season, despite losing to Chelsea’s first team in the final, and they are likely to be an exciting team to watch in the coming years. But what is needed is to blend these up-and-coming players with proven professionals, and specifically a striker with the killer instinct. Whether that’s a player that can work with Henry, or one to replace him, I don’t know. What I don’t want is to see a team that continues to revolve around a single player, and whose success or failure is dependant on that one player’s performance. It’s a team game, after all.

Could Arsenal’s season end tonight?

March 7th, 2007

After losing to Chelsea in the Carling Cup final, and being dumped out of the FA Cup by Blackburn, Arsenal’s only realistic remaining hope for silverware this season is the Champions League. Tonight Arsenal host PSV Eindhoven in the return leg with the score standing at 1-0 to PSV. Arsenal have to try and score at least 2 goals while keeping a clean sheet, and they have to do this with a less-than-fit Thierry Henry and with other key players such as Rosicky, Eboue, and van Persie unavailable. PSV know they can just hang on for a 0-0 draw and go through, so I expect them to sit back and defend deep, hoping to catch Arsenal on the break. It looks like it’s going to be a tense night for Gooners.